The Private Prison Crisis in America

In 2016, the Obama administration had made the choice to begin to phase out the use of the private prisons throughout America. However, the Trump administration, the following year, decided to reverse this choice and to continue using private prisons for the immediate future. This was simply because of how they claimed that the Obama administration hadn’t recognised how the country is going to require a greater needed for prisons in the future.

As a Criminal Justice major, I’ve been able to find myself in the unique position to not only learn about both of these systems in depth but also to visit these two distinct types of systems. Because of this, I was horrified to learn of the Trump administration’s choice to reverse the choice made by the previous administration. The initial reason for the choice to phase out the use of private prisons has been because of how they have been found by the Justice Department to not all be effective in reforming individuals inside, often are more dangerous, are run “for profit,” and often seen to cut corners in various areas of the prison.

The best metaphor to use to help understand private prisons is to view them as a company. As compared to public prisons, private prisons often do whatever it takes to turn a profit. It’s rooted in the government contracts that fund the prisons, to begin with. For instance, if a prisoner costs roughly $31,000 per year to take care including food, board, and other expenses, then they would receive that amount of money for each prisoner that they are taking care. This is where corners begin to get cut, again, say for instance that the average cost of a bed would cost $500, the company in question would much rather spend $100 on a poor-quality bed and pocket the $400 as profit. In addition to this, several of these prisons create programs in which the inmates are working and creating products for these companies to see, as opposed to working in programs that focus on their rehabilitation.

Having visited both a private and public prison personally, it became very easy to see the inescapable differences that existed between the two prisons. In the public prison, security was much more intense, and the staff at this facility were far more professional and dedicated to ensuring security was their maximum desire. For the prisoners, they had various areas they could go to focus on rehabilitation, everything from a basketball court, an area for musicians, and, of course, a library. The private prison was much different. The staff treated their roles without any sense of urgency or professionalism. They openly admitted that there was a massive problem with regards to contraband in the prison, from both the security guards and the other staff members present. The educational facilities they had seemed lackluster and hardly encouraged any form of inmate growth. What I had seen from facilities there seemed almost horrific.     

  The private prison system was originally created to deal with the growing prisoner population in America, and it has indirectly created a bit of an endless loop for the individuals within the system. The private prison complex isn’t something that holds rehabilitation and redemption in it’s heart and mind, but rather it is that of recidivism and profit. That is why they cut corners, encourage work as supposed therapy because they know that if they get more people into the prison, they’ll only get all the richer.        

Perhaps, the worst part of all of this is how easy it has become to accept private prisons by most Americans. It’s becoming increasingly easier to view prisoners as less than human because of their actions, and because of that, we’re only going to see the rise of these facilities in the future.

Private prisons themselves are a symptom of a much larger issue in America, which push for harsher punishments, the need to spend less money, and conviction of non-violent individuals into the system. The reversal of the Obama-era choice is a horrific step backward in the betterment of the prison system in America.